Wissahickon neighbors vote on Sharp Street housing plan

 Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association and project developers met on Monday night.  (Matthew Grady/NewsWorks)

Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association and project developers met on Monday night. (Matthew Grady/NewsWorks)

By a ten to one margin, Wissahickon residents voted to approve a plan to bring additional residences and parking to the 3700 block of Sharp Street.

On Monday, developers associated with the Sharp St. project told the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association that it will build four houses on the site. Each three-story, single family home will have three bedrooms and 2.5 baths. The homes do not have garages, but they meet WNCA standards by having two onsite parking spaces per unit in front of the house.

The homes are expected to sell for approximately $400,000. With two houses being framed and the foundations in place for the remaining houses, the project is expected to be concluded by August.

However, the one snag in the project that resulted in a refusal from the city is a requirement calling for adjoining homes to have matching setbacks – for the facing fronts of all homes to form a straight line. Under the original plan, matching setbacks would prevent two code-compliant parking spaces in front of each unit.

Brett Feldman, attorney for site-owner and developer Nate Torok, told residents that they were trying to make good on past commitments for parking, despite the quirks in the zoning code.

“Either way, there’s going to be a house there, but we’d like to add two parking spaces,” said Feldman. “We promised our neighbors we’d continue to provide [spaces] because of the parking situation on that block.”


Developer no stranger to Wissachickon neighbors

Torok, proprietor of the Newtown-based iBuild, is a familiar face to WNCA members:  In addition to being the developer of several properties in the neighborhood, he stood before the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association in June of 2012 seeking permission to raze a freestanding garage on the 100 block of Haines St. and replace it with townhouses.

At the time, WNCA membership demurred voting on the project, citing concerns related to parking plans. In addition, members expressed interest in waiting for the release of the new zoning code, which was implemented in August of 2012.

One month later, the garages caught fire. Firefighters were able to knock down the one-alarm blaze in about ten minutes with no reports of injuries. At the time, Torok indicated that the blaze was the result of faulty wiring, and that the damage was more cosmetic than structural.

On Monday, Torok told WNCA’s membership that the garages are still standing. While plans are not yet finalized, he told residents he intends to tear them down eventually.


Extended sidewalks could mean diminished parking

While an approved variance for the four house would allow for the desired two parking space, residents were concerned that a ten-foot sidewalk called for in the plans could have unwanted consequences.

At present, residents are using property adjacent to 3722 Sharp St. to park as many as a dozen cars. While the land belongs to Torok, he is currently overlooking the practice and expressed no intent to reconsider the position.

However, when the plans go before the city, Torok could be compelled by officials to extend the ten-foot sidewalks beyond the frontage of 3722 Sharp St., thereby eliminating access to the lot to neighborhood motorists desperate for parking.

While residents lobbied against changes to their informal parking arrangement, WNCA President Andrew Bantly reminded members that the lot was privately owned, and was therefore not a bargaining chip for residents.

“The reality of situation is that it’s private property he could have all those cars towed,” said Bantly, noting that Torok has not done so. Bantly added that the developer might be compelled by the city to install the sidewalk.

“We are trying to make sure that part of that lot is not disrupted, but at the same time, there are certain requirements that he is going to have to adhere to,” said Bantly. He told WNCA members that should the plans not be approved, developers said they would be forced to have yards in front, pushing potential parking onto the street.

“Personally, I feel it’s pretty cut and dry – we either approve two parking spaces, or we don’t,” Bantly concluded.

With a 20 to 2 vote by residents in favor of the project, Torok and iBuild appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on June 26.

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